The Freedom of Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is a skill found within DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy). It helps one in becoming more mindful as well as how to tolerating distress. A tough skill to master, but ever so freeing the more it takes a hold in one’s life. Radical acceptance is learning to see a situation for what it is, and not judge it. To look back and acknowledge all the steps, decisions and explanations as to why you are where you are in this moment. Common phrases include, “it is what it is”, “I’ll know when I know” or “I’ll worry when I have something to worry about”.

Let me paint you a few examples:

A few years ago, I took part in an international ringette tournament in Europe and Scandinavia. I was travelling with close to 40-50 other teammates, coaches and parents. We got off the plan to find out that the bus that was supposed to transport us and all our luggage and equipment was too small. A combination of people being tired and competing personalities broke out in trying to herd everyone on the bus and arrange the luggage. I grabbed a seat, sat back and observed everything that was occurring, as were some others. There was a mash up of anger, annoyance and frustration, as suggestions as to how they thought the problem could get fixed swirled in and around the bus. Comments like, “why doesn’t the company just send another bus, how unprofessional”, “maybe if “X” just sat down instead of trying to help, we’d actually get going”, or ‘“Y”’ doesn’t know what they’re talking. This is so ridiculous.” Calmness ensued when I finally realized, “it is what it is, there’s nothing I can do or say in this situation to make it any better. Instead of getting worked up about it, I’ll just accept the fact they’re sorting it out regardless of my opinions about it. We’ll start moving when we start moving”.  Of course I wanted to get to our hotel room and go to sleep. Of course I didn’t want the situation to be handled the way it was handled. Of course I wished the bus had just been big enough for us all to fit right from the beginning. However, this wasn’t the case. It simply was what it was, and I didn’t have to be out of sorts because of it.

Here’s another example. Earlier this year, I was driving back on the 401 to Guelph. My horseback riding lesson ran late, and there was traffic. I was getting worked up and anxious about the very real possibility I might be late for work. I was blaming myself, my lesson, the traffic, and on and on. Then… BAM… I caught myself and remembered radical acceptance. I tried to understand all the factors that occurred that resulted in the position I was in.

-          I was late in getting to the barn, meaning the start and end of my lesson might have                  been pushed back as well

-          we were jumping and cantering  in the lesson and my horse got sweaty

-          he hadn’t been shaved recently, so was extra hot

-          I had to walk the horse around the barn numerous times to cool off before I brushed                  him, put his coat on and put him out to the field. Normally, a brush would have been                  sufficient for him to dry and cool off before putting his coat on.

-          construction was on the 401 resulting in backed up cars

I couldn’t deny any of the above. It was what it was. Worrying about being late, or smelling like horse, was not going to somehow stop time and fix everything. It was a wasted effort. I don’t like being late for clients. I don’t like being stuck in traffic. And yet,  it was what it was.

A few years a ago, I struggled with some mental health issues that I simply did not want to accept. My unacceptance of the reality that this was indeed happening, only exasperated my symptoms.  I was struggling with what I was struggling, and by accepting this, I had one less thing to fight against… myself.

Using this skill can help reduce anxiety and create space for opportunities to address situations differently. If we’re so caught up in the thing we don’t want to accept, we rob ourselves of navigating these situations in a less distressing manner. Just because we don’t want to be struggling with mental health issues or aspects of recovery doesn’t mean we won’t. Sure, change the things you can change, and tolerate the things that in this moment you can’t, or ever will.

Give it a try! After all, we can’t control or be thrilled about everything that comes our way!

Container and Safe Place

Last year, I completed training in Eye Movement Reprocessing and Desensitization (E.M.D.R.) and was introduced to the skills of 'container/containment' and 'safe/calm place'. Other therapy modalities also use these skills. I love them! Especially safe place. Both involve visualization and can help decrease anxiety. Give them a try!

So, container/containment. Close your eyes for a moment. Think of some sort of container that is strong and sturdy. Something that you can put things into that you know won't be able to get out. When I close my eyes and do this, I see a treasure chest box. Black/grey-ish, with rusted metal trim on its seams. There's a latch with a key hole to keep it locked. It's a special kind of chest in that it is a bottomless container... sort of like Hermione's bag (for all you Harry Potter fans) that contains endless amount of things. When I'm feeling distressed, or have too many thoughts roaming around in my head that keep me from falling asleep or focusing at the task at hand, I put them in this container. I visualize every worry and painful feeling I can't attend to in this moment flying into this container. I shut the lid *thud* and slide it to the back corner in the basement, where it's dark and dingy... cobwebs in the corners and ceiling. It sits there until I allow myself to pull it out.

The concept of the container isn't meant for you to be in denial of the painful things you put in there... it's not meant to be locked up forever (because we all know that doesn't work!). But, it gives yourself permission to take a break from it for a bit. Then, perhaps when you are in your  next therapy appointment, or with a trusted support person, you allow yourself to take it out again and work on it. 

Next is calm/safe place. If you prefer the word calmness over safety, that is okay. It is not important which word you choose to reference this place, as long as it is a place where calmness and peace resides. 

Similarly to container, visualize a place that is filled with everything calm and safe. It can be real, or imaginary. Are you alone or with someone? Any animals there? What is in your surroundings? Can you hear anything? Are you inside or outside? Any smells or tastes? What can you feel? 

My calm place has changed over the years. It used to be a remote shoreline of a lake up North, near White Otter Castle, that awaited me after completing a portage. There was a pebble beach with various trees (oak, maple, birch, pine) defining the shoreline. It was summer time, blue sky, warm and no bugs. There is a sense of awe and wonder here, as well as relief. There is no wind, the water is calm, although I can hear it lap up against the pebbles. In reality, there were more people there, but in my calm place, it is just me. It is a first person view. I don’t have a physical picture of this place… but it is so clear in my mind.

I can go there whenever I want. I can go there when I’m alone or in a crowd.  And, if for whatever reason, this place somehow becomes ‘tainted’ and is no longer calm or safe, I can let it go and think up a new place. Same with the container… if when pulling it up in your mind you feel as though it won’t do the job you need it to, think up something new or different. Add things to it or start fresh. So, next time you are needing some ‘calmness’ in your life, try putting your distress in a container and then visually going to your calm place!